Steve Warren, WDFM alum, reminisces

Steve Warren, a WDFM alumnus, got in touch in July 2013 and shared some of his reminiscences of his time in student broadcasting:

Happy Offbeat Christmas!

That doesn’t mean much to many people.  Never did, I guess, but in my time at WDFM…

I was “thinhead” then, on Saturday nights from 9 to midnight.  I took over the “Offbeat” show, which used to play jazz, when Bob Zamboni graduated, and I brought the devil’s music (a.k.a. rock and roll) to WDFM’s airwaves, to the horror of faculty advisor Dr. Harold E. Nelson.

Since the university shut down over the traditional year-end holidays and I was there for a couple of summer terms (1963 and ’64), I designated the second Saturday in July as “Offbeat Christmas” and did my holiday show then.

Someone loaned me a Santa outfit the second year and I wore it to the HUB on Friday night to do some promotion.  (I’ll have to see if I can find that old photo from the Collegian.)  I almost shit when some kids showed up and I had to go into real Santa mode, explaining that I lost weight during the off-season.

My real name in those days was Steve Monheimer.  I was a Journalism major until my senior year, when Broadcasting became an option; and that’s what I got my B.A. in.

But I was really an Activities major.  Aside from WDFM, where I practically lived (8 a.m. classes are for sleeping; the night is for production work), I was active in Thespians and wrote some theater reviews for the Collegian; and although I was a social independent I belonged to Sigma Delta Chi (Society of Professional Journalists) and was elected to the broadcasting honorary Rho Tau Sigma.

It was indirectly through Thespians that I acquired my  nom de aire.  I worked on the stage crew, having given up trying to act for what would be almost 30 years.  When traveling shows came to Schwab, a bunch of us would meet the trucks and start unloading and setting up, until the union stagehands arrived and chased us away.

[Sidebar:  One of those shows was “Medea,” starring Judith Anderson.  The set consisted primarily of two large pillars, one near either side of the stage.  I was so proud, during the performance, when one of them fell over.  It was the one the union guys had put up.  The Thespian pillar remained standing!]

When Sylvia Sidney came to campus to play Dolly Levi in “The Matchmaker,” we went through the usual routine of helping until we were shooed.  But somehow we got word of a cast party that night – I think it was at the Nittany Lion Inn – and a few of the ballsier among us crashed it.  The liquor flowed freely – and for free! – and I had put away my share before Miss Sidney made her entrance.  I exchanged a few rude words with her and probably passed out.  Later I remember lying on the floor next to the bed she was sprawled out on, when she looked down at me and said, “You know, you have the thinnest head I’ve ever seen.”  Voila!  “thinhead” was born!

[About a decade later I interviewed Miss Sidney in Atlanta and told her the story.  She denied ever having said it but looked at me and, dog fancier that she was, said, “You do resemble a Borzoi.”]

My career at WDFM began inauspiciously in my freshman year, when I went to an open audition.  About two-thirds of the people who tried out that day passed.  I, with my resonant monotone, was not among them.  But I felt at home the minute I walked into 304 Sparks and I started hanging out there, working on my delivery, until someone weakened and said, “Oh, put the kid on the air.”  By then I was ready.

I did shows of various genres, learning enough about classical music that I would get an announcing job on WGKA, “the Voice of the Arts in Atlanta,” in 1968. In my first week on the air there I had to read the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination. My previous job had been at a country station.  I was eclectic.

I started slipping pop music in where I could on WDFM after I discovered that you could get free promotional copies.  I still have some of the ones I acquired there.  When I took over “Offbeat” it became three hours of pop/rock/soul for guys like me who couldn’t get a date on Saturday night.

The second year I added a show, “Transition,” from 8 to 9.  It would start with a classical piece and gradually do what the title suggested until the last song of the hour was a rocker, leading into “Offbeat.”

Dr. Nelson hated the music but he couldn’t have hated me too much, as he allowed me to become Station Manager my senior year. We almost became friends, and exchanged Christmas cards (not Offbeat Christmas) until his death decades later.

Thanks for listening and again, Happy Offbeat Christmas!

–Steve Warren